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: A Masterpiece by Gilbert Stuart


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The Society has just acquired from the income of the Dunwoody Fund a notable painting by Gilbert Stuart, the Portrait of Master Ward, signed and dated 1779. This portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1779 under the title of Portrait of a Young Gentleman. The name written on the dog's collar reveals the personality of the young gentleman in question; namely, James Ward, later to become celebrated as an engraver. The portrait is signed G. C. Stuart; that is, Gilbert Charles Stuart. Stuart signed only three paintings, of which this is one. In later life the artist omitted the name Charles, added by his father, a strong Jacobite, to the boy's baptismal name of Gilbert. In this portrait the Society has acquired an extraordinary example, painted in his English period, of most the most distinguished of early American painters.This portrait, coming from an obscure English collection, is practically unknown, although it has been listed by Mr. Mantle Fielding as No. 147 in his list of "Paintings by Gilbert Stuart not mentioned in Mason's Life of Stuart," Penn. Magazine of History and Biography, July, 1914. Mr. Fielding does not, however, identify the personality of the sitter. An article on the portrait by Mr. Charles Henry Hart will appear in a forthcoming number of Art in America.In color and drawing, in skillful brush work, the portrait of Master Ward stands comparison with the work of the great masters of the English school of portrait painting contemporary with Stuart. In such a portrait as this, Stuart shows his right to stand with the great portrait painters of his age. While he is distinctly of the English school, and we must remember that our earliest American painting was an offshoot of that school with no national characteristics except that of provincialism, Stuart displays a marked individuality. As an artist he is an independent observer, seeing nature with his own eyes, and evolving a technique personal to his needs.His best portraits are characterized by a masterful expression of personality. It was generally upon this that he concentrated his effort, omitting or slurring over details of costume and accessories. "I copy the works of god and leave clothes to the tailor and the mantua-maker," said Stuart. And yet, if he felt that costume could be used to reveal character, he painted it with exquisite skill.In the portrait of Master Ward, the beautiful costume with its full sleeves and the drapery thrown over the shoulder contributes much to the charm of the picture. This fancy costume, evidently reminiscent of Van Dyck, one feels to be appropriate to this graceful young lad with his dog. In coloring, the picture is particularly attractive. The rose and silver tones of the face gain in value by contrast with the more subdued colors of the foliage background and the costume. The boy's hair is a golden brown. The full sleeves are a silvery brown; the drapery over the shoulder an exquisite blue which is repeated in the sky. The boy's coat is brown, and this color is repeated in the foliage and the dog's tousled hair.Gilbert Stuart was born in 1755 at Narragansett, R. I. As a youth he accompanied a Scotch painter, Cosmo Alexander, whom he met at Newport, to Scotland, where he entered Glasgow University. Alexander died shortly after, however, and Stuart, friendless and homesick, returned to America, where he continued to practice his art. Upon the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, as Stuart's family was of the Tory party, he sailed to England, where he was befriended by Benjamin West, in whose studio he worked for eight years as an assistant, although uninfluenced in either point of view or method by this academic painter. After leaving West, Stuart set up for himself and met with very considerable success. In 1792, however, impelled, it is said, by a desire to paint a portrait of George Washington, he returned to America where he lived and painted until his death in 1828 in Boston. He was the only American of his day who was in the true sense a painter. His work is never stiff and hard like that of Peale and Copley. Stuart saw nature as "an arrangement of colored masses variously affected by light," and in his brilliant brush work he anticipated many of the qualities that are characteristic of modern painting.Referenced Work of Art
  1. Master Ward, by Gilbert Stuart
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Source: Joseph Breck, "A Masterpiece by Gilbert Stuart," <i>The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin</i> 5, no. 1 (January, 1916): 2-3.
Rights: ©MIA
Added to Site: March 10, 2009